Underused Natural Gas Capacity

Our underused natural gas capacity could almost completely replace our current coal-generated energy, argues Sean Casten, President & CEO of Recycled Energy Development.
May 31, 2009, 7am PDT | Tim Halbur
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"Two interesting observations:

1. 50% of U.S. power generation (in MWh) comes from coal, while only 20% comes from natural gas.
2. 32% of total U.S. power generation capacity (in MW) is coal-fired, while 42% is gas-fired.

When it runs, the natural gas fleet emits just 50% of the CO2 of the coal fleet, which raises a rather interesting question: what would we have to do to make it run harder? And how big a difference would that make in our national CO2 footprint?

So why, if we have more natural gas generation capacity, do we get more of our power from coal?

Simple: we have a lot of gas-fired generation (449 GW, as of 2007), it doesn't run very often. The coal fleet is comparatively smaller (336 GW), but runs a lot more frequently. It is as if our vehicle fleet were dominated by Priuses, but they stayed parked while we drove our Escalades to work.

We have a huge resource that is already built that could massively lower CO2 emissions. Taking a page from the NRA, what if the problem isn't that we need to build more low-carbon generation, but that we just need to make better use of what we have?"

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Published on Friday, May 29, 2009 in Grist
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